I hate New Year's Resolutions.
Mostly because I think that the holiday season in general has become a time of year that we tend to reserve big change for, and reserve kind thoughts and selflessness for. Shouldn't we be thoughtful and thankful and thinking of our loved ones all year 'round?
"Finding balance" is something I hear often, especially every 365 days or so when the calendar flips (and I'm thinking to myself "I'm turning how old this year? That can't be right?"). But this year it seems like everyone and their pet gerbil is saying that their New Year's Resolution is to "find balance between work and [insert your choice of 'family', 'life', 'play', etc. here]. And it's driving me nuts.
"When people say their goal is to "find balance", it means they really have no idea of what they want."
What does that even mean?
Don't get me wrong,I think it's awesome to set goals and to have something to be working towards and strive for. But in my experience with cutting-edge, urban professionals whose focus in working with me is to maximize their energy, productivity and resilience, I've learned that "finding balance" is something we have to be striving for on a regular basis, and that when people say their goal is to "find balance", it means they really have no idea of what they want.
If you really knew what you wanted to achieve, your New Year's Resolution wouldn't be "find balance", it would be specific, committed, and focused: It'd be something like "I will spend a minimum of 2 hours with my son every day", or "I will leave work by 5pm at least 3 times per week" or maybe even a bit more vague; "I will be 100% present with my wife when she's speaking to me". (My wife is going to love that last one).
"You can be both a doer and a dreamer (it's called being an entrepreneur)"
I am under the apparent misconception that everybody is taught how to set goals appropriate when they're in grade 5. If you didn't learn this at some point in your life/career, then you need to berate every single mentor, coach and teacher you ever had, because this is the sort of life skill that defines the doers from the dreamers. And you can be both a doer and a dreamer (it's called being an entrepreneur). Goal setting is most appropriately, efficiently and practically done through the acronym SMART. Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Timed. (There are a number of variations on what these letters stand for, but I like these ones)
The more specific a goal is, the more clear and focused you can be about taking action to achieve it. If it's vague, like "I want to feel better", you won't be able to evaluate your progress toward that goal. Which brings is to goals being measurable. This means that there has to be some level of ability to evaluate yourself and keep yourself accountable towards. It means being capable of having feedback or metrics with regards to that goal. If you can measure and deliver feedback on your progress towards your goal, it's a shitty goal you've set yourself. Action-Oriented means that you actually have to do or change something. I feel like "finding balance" insinuates that I could sit on my butt and have 'balance' slap me in the face, as if it's something that will or could happen without me making some accommodations, changes or commitments in my life. Realistic is sometimes labelled under "A" as "Attainable" - Attainable and realistic are really the same thing though - Setting goals that are near impossible to achieve are a recipe not only for failure, but for disaster. Anytime I set goals with my clients, we talk about how success nurtures more success, and how the more times you set a goal and fail at it, the more likely you are to fail again in the future. Goals can be tiered - set up as stepping stones to bigger and bigger goals, but at the onset, achieving a big goal starts with a single step on that journey. What's the next, best, first step for you? Lastly, give yourself a deadline - A good goal is Timed. Again, this works towards being measurable and accountable to that commitment.
"The more times you set a goal and fail at it, the more likely you are to fail again in the future."
What does success feel like?
When you set a goal, even if your grade 5 teacher did teach you SMART goals, the trick that all successful professionals, entrepreneurs and students employ (that no one tells you about) is to step back and imagine: What's it going to feel like (in your body) when you achieve that goal? I promise I'll talk more about imagery training and how we can leverage it to maximize productivity and brain power, but for now, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a few months, (or in a few months or years, depending on your goal), and what achieving that goal is going to feel like, and what it's going to allow you to do.
Reverse-engineer your goals
OK, so you've set your big goal. Write it down at the top of a piece of paper or your in your personal notebook. Go over it with your pen a few times so it's bold (or if you are doing it in Evernote like a good tech-savvy professional, just make it bold by clicking on the 'B'). It's Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Timed. You've pictured what life is going to be like and how awesome you're going to feel when you have achieved that goal. Write down a short paragraph about those feelings and what life will be like , just underneath that (bold) goal and put it in italics. The last step of magic (it's not really magic it's just that no one ever makes the effort to do it) is this: In addition to writing down your goal, write down, in reverse order, the individual steps needed to do create that change. No single goal is ever a single step, you don't just get across a river by taking one stepping stone. It's a collective achievement of the right steps in the right order that get us to greener pastures. So what's the last step to achieving your big goal? And then the step before that? How will you get to that step? Make sure each intermediate step is also a SMART goal. No matter how menial, small or simple. When you've reverse-engineered your (big, bold) goal all the way back to your very first step (today!) - This is your roadmap to success.
"What's it going to feel like (in your body) when you achieve that goal?"
Dr. Jason Marr is a Naturopathic Doctor, an Expert Health & Wellness Speaker, Founder and Director of Evoke Integrative Medicine Ltd. in downtown Vancouver, BC. He arms urban professionals with evidence-based, integrative, real-world tools to maximize productivity, performance and learning agility, while overcoming fatigue, stress, anxiety and burnout.
This post was originally published on Dr.Marr's MarrMedicine website on January 16, 2016.